by Marion Nestle
May 8 2024

Uh oh. Bulk organic walnuts associated with toxic E. coli

I learned about this one from Bill Marler’s blog: This is Nuts – California and Washington E. coli Outbreak linked to Gibson Farms Walnuts 

This refers to the CDC announcement: E. coli outbreak linked to organic walnuts

The CDC issued a warning: CDC warns of E. coli outbreak linked to organic walnuts sold in bulk

The FDA has its own investigation: Outbreak Investigation of E. coli O157:H7: Bulk Organic Walnuts (April 2024): Do not eat, sell, or serve recalled organic walnuts sold in bulk bins at natural food and co-op retailers in multiple states. FDA’s investigation is ongoing.

The CDC points out:

  • Almost all sick people purchased organic walnuts from bulk bins in food co-ops or natural food stores in California and Washington.
  • FDA determined that Gibson Farms, Inc supplied these walnuts and Gibson Farms, Inc has recalled these products.: These walnuts have expiration dates between May 21, 2025, and June 7, 2025.
  • FDA has a list of stores that may have received these walnuts.

Comment:  All toxic E. coli outbreaks are troubling because the illnesses are so serious and all are preventable if producers were doing what they were supposed to be doing.  But walnuts?  My first question is how could walnuts, firmly encased in shells, get contaminated with animal fecal wastes, the usual source of this strain of E. coli.  This reminds me of the Odwalla juice E. coli problems; the company had harvested apples that had fallen on the ground. Did Gibson harvest walnuts off the ground?  Whatever it did, the company should have been following a food safety plan mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires prevention controls and testing to make sure things like this donn’t happen.

Are non-organic walnuts harvested any differently from organic walnuts.   Here’s what one producer says.

The nuts are removed from the tree using a mechanical shaker, a machine that grasps the trunk and shakes the whole tree. The nuts drop to the ground, are then swept into windrows and picked up with harvest machinery. This operation is completed quickly to reduce the time nuts remain on the ground.

Uh oh indeed.  I hope this incident causes some changes in this procedure.

In the meantime, Marler has more to do.